Saturday, March 13, 2010

First, Stop Digging

I am concerned with the City of Ennis’s reputation. They seem to be garnering the mantel of a backward jurisdiction with a Barney Fife police force.

I resist that notion. I still want to believe that the men and women on our police force are sincerely serving our community with personal integrity and with honor. But it is hard.

To maintain that notion, I am clinging to the idea that they have inept leadership, and those who ought to know better are allowing otherwise fine officers to look foolish.

On Tuesday, March 9, Officer McCurdy arrested me. He did not tell me what law I had allegedly broken. After cooling my jets in the Ennis city jail for 26 hours, (10 AM Tuesday to just after 12:30 PM on Wednesday, according to my phone records.) I was keen to look at the citation to see what the particular charge was.

I was not given one.

What I did receive was a “personal recognizance” bond form with the charge “Impeding traffic/Bike Offence” in Municipal Judge Johnson’s handwriting and his signature. This was different than last time. I wonder: Was my previous arrest handled in an irregular manner, or was this latest time the irregular one?

I suspect, but I can’t be certain, so this is somewhat speculative: Why was I held for about three hours after the PR bond was signed? I think they would have held me longer but it was easier to release me than to make a run to McDonalds for another dollar value menu hamburger.

So Friday I stop at the court to file seven motions and plead not guilty to this charge. I ask the court clerk for my case number. She runs my case envelope through the copy machine. Here is what my case envelope says:


E0011786 01 100053359
Fin: 100.00 Cst: 94.00 Due: 194.00

BATES, REED

Officer: MCCURDY, JASON E
FAILURE TO KEEP BICYCLE ON RIGHT SIDE OFROAD

Violation Date: 3/9/2010

Yeah, that charge has me scratching my head too. As absurd as it is, they avoided an even worse charge that the police were considering, and perhaps this is just a reflection of it.

I wonder who changed it to “Impeding Traffic/Bike Offense”. Was it Judge Johnson cleaning it up after closely questioning the circumstances surrounding my arrest by interviewing the four officers who were present? Did he interview any of the 911 callers who accuse me of impeding them?

Who else has the authority to change the charges? Toby Mash, our city attorney?

My recollection of how it went down

With unsubstantiated anonymous reports of death and mayhem pouring in to the Ennis 911 system, three patrol units and four Ennis city officers responded to suppress the latest crime wave on Hwy 287.

Now while I always strive to be polite, some of my friends have counseled me that my style of presenting my case can feel confrontational. Making declarative statements of what the law actually says to a police officer can get their backs up, apparently. “You may be right, Reed, but they think they know the law. You can’t appear to be schooling the teacher.”

So I am resolved to defend myself with Officer McCurdy by avoiding declarative statements by asking questions instead. (Y’all can see how well that worked out!)

So after I take his picture, I concentrate on presenting my case through questions.

Chip “Why did you stop me?”
OM “We have been getting a lot of 911 calls.”
Chip “Couldn’t the 911 operator inform them that bicycles are allowed to operate on the roadway in Texas?”
OM “We are concerned with your safety.”
Chip “Oh, you stopped me on a safety violation?”
OM “Yes. You were riding out there”; He pointed to the roadway. “Why weren’t…”
Chip, interrupting; “Now you are talking about traffic law, not a safety violation!”
OM “… you riding over here on the shoulder?”
Chip “So did you stop me for a traffic violation or a safety violation?”
OM “Traffic law is about safety.”
Chip “How wide is that travel lane?”
OM “I’m not here to argue about the law.”

Officer McCurdy seemed a little flustered, and unsure of himself. He tried a different tack.

OM “You know tractors, right? They have to have those slow moving vehicle signs on them.”
Chip, displaying the back of his messenger bag that has a 7” by 7” triangle on it; “You mean one of these?”
OM “Yes, but bigger, you need to have one of those to ride out there.”
Chip “So you stopped me because I have an equipment violation?”
OM, looking hopefully toward arriving backup officers; “No…” He seems sorry he brought it up.
Chip “So if I get a big triangle, I can drive on the roadway?”
OM “No, I’m not here to argue about the law.”

Enter Sgt. Pillow. She came toward the front of officer McCurdy’s unit, but would not advance closer to us than standing beside the front wheel. I suspect she was avoiding being viewed by the dash camera. She and I exchange greetings with each other by name.

SP “Mr. Bates, we have been through this before, you need to be riding over here.” She points to the shoulder.

(I want to say that I replied that shoulder use was optional, and I chose not to, but frankly I don’t remember what I said here. I will take the time to transcribe the dash-cam audio when it is made available to me. I hope what I write here will correspond to the audio. I will post it so you can see how well I did.)

SP “This is a designated bike lane here. You are required to ride on it.”
Chip, in astonishment “Where are the signs designating it? How is the public to know it’s a bike lane?”
SP “It is a designated bike lane”

She holds a quick roadside conference with the other two officers present.

OM distracts me “This is a wide shoulder. It’s in pretty good shape. It’s pretty clean. Why won’t you ride on it?
Chip “It is more dangerous than the roadway.”

Officer McCurdy dismisses all of my objections as inadequate, and I am irked that I am being required to justify opting “no” to what by state law is optional. I finally ask him what vehicles are required to use the shoulder. “I’m not here to argue the law.” He said, as he went to consult Sgt. Pillow.

He returns after a moment and places me under arrest. Outside of “OK” and “thank you”, I say not a word more. Officer McCurdy never tells me what I am being arrested for, and so for the next 26 hours I am hoping it will be a Sec.551.103 (a)(4)(A) violation of failure to use a designated bike lane. Wouldn’t that be a hoot!

Which behavior causes the most harm?

It is clear by their roadside behavior, the line officers are not getting guidance from their leadership other than “get him off the road!” These officers are casting about for any excuse to arrest me and make the 911 calls stop. But the way charges are changed after the fact, why do they even bother?

Clearly, what the law actually says, allows and prohibits has no importance at the street level. The Ennis police apparently are buffeted by forces beyond all that nitpicky legal stuff. Any excuse , no matter how ridiculous, is seized on to justify arrest.

And our judge and city attorney clean it up and back them up.

Logic and reason likewise are unable to deter this manic imperative to put the irksome uppity cyclist in his place. Could someone point to the harm that requires an arrest be made? With at least 20 hours of exposure on Hwy 287 and more than 300 miles expended crossing it, who has been harmed? Bring forth the victims!

If operating on that roadway were such a perilous activity, why am I still able to write this after all that exposure? Shouldn’t I be road kill by now?

But with the international attention being drawn to the City of Ennis, are continued arrests worth the damage they are causing to our reputation? It is easy to draw images of Barney Fife blundering about. Negative slander is carried along with popular notions of “southern small town corruption”. The behavior of our police can be easily cast as typical ignorant prejudice. [biking in heels, Rantwick, city cycle]

The lawfulness of my behavior is clear to any who can read. There plenty of helpful guides on-line if one needs help. [1] People outside of Texas have a better handle on the rights of cyclists in Texas than the Ennis PD does! Oh yes, let’s keep arresting the bicyclist!

Stubborn

Who should back down, the City of Ennis or ChipSeal?

Perhaps the City of Ennis should wait to see how the new appeal trial turns out. Such a claim would save face and allow further sport at our expense to cease. It would be just like those two years prior to October 2009 when I drove around just like do now, but without the drama. (How did Ennis get along all that time without arresting me? Can the City of Ennis point to chaos and mayhem during that period when I was “unregulated”?)

Or perhaps I should voluntarily abandon exerting my right to drive on the public roadway. Suck it up and drive where it is less safe. Expose myself to greater peril for the greater good. (Reducing the work-load of our 911 operator?) Take to gravel roads and take longer trips.

I should just stay home, or take the bus. (There is no bus.) I could walk the six miles to town for groceries. If I took a wheelbarrow, I would be a vehicle and thus traffic, and able to use the roadway! [2] I would no longer write critical phone numbers on my arm before leaving the house.

No, I think not. The more the City of Ennis strives to remove my right to the public road, the more dear that right seems to me. I won’t be backing down, Ennis. Perhaps you should weigh the costs and reconsider before proceeding.

I have.




[1] The Ennis PD should make haste to update their copies of the TTC. It is shameful that Officer Watson was made to look the fool because he was provided with an outdated copy of the TTC

[2] Sec. 541.201. (23) "Vehicle" means a device that can be used to transport or draw persons or property on a highway.

Sec. 541.301. TRAFFIC. In this subtitle "traffic" means pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and conveyances, including vehicles and streetcars, singly or together while using a highway for the purposes of travel.

18 comments:

  1. I think the judge does not set charges. That is the prosecutor's job.

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  2. Holy crap! WTF is up with EPD arresting you for riding your bicycle on the public roads?! Insanity like that is why I moved from Texas. I made a small contribution to your legal fund.

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  3. I have dealt with the traffic police in Texas off and on over the last 55 years and it ain't changed much. The first time was in 1955, I was 16 and the cop was so blatantly off and wrong that the JP just threw it out. I have dozens of stories but I think I will refrain.

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  4. What we have here, is a failure to communicate.

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  5. Your courage is remarkable in the face of such adversity. Many of us would have given up due to all the pressure from local police. I truly hope you come out on top when this is all settled.

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  6. I don't get why they keep sending ChipSeal to jail.

    Do they send people to jail for running a red light or speeding?

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  7. With all due respect maybe this is what Ennis Police Department is talking about.

    § 551.103. OPERATION ON ROADWAY. (a) Except as provided
    by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is
    moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as
    near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway,
    unless:
    (1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in
    the same direction;
    (2) the person is preparing to turn left at an
    intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
    (3) a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed
    or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or
    surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the
    right curb or edge of the roadway; or
    (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside
    lane that is:
    (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a
    designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
    (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle
    to safely travel side by side.
    (b) A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with
    two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near as practicable to
    the left curb or edge of the roadway.
    (c) Persons operating bicycles on a roadway may ride two
    abreast. Persons riding two abreast on a laned roadway shall ride
    in a single lane. Persons riding two abreast may not impede the
    normal and reasonable flow of traffic on the roadway. Persons may
    not ride more than two abreast unless they are riding on a part of a
    roadway set aside for the exclusive operation of bicycles.
    (d) Repealed by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1085, § 13,
    eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

    Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995. Amended
    by Acts 2001, 77th Leg., ch. 1085, § 10, 13, eff. Sept. 1, 2001.

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  8. 551.103 (4)(a) specifically provides for him to operate lawfully exactly as he was.

    (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside
    lane that is:
    (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a
    designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
    (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle
    to safely travel side by side.

    The lane is the space between the fog line and the lane line. All of the lanes where he was stopped are less than 14ft wide. The lane does not include the shoulder. TX does not require cyclists to use the shoulder.

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  9. Does it give a bicyclist the right to ride in the middle of the lane. I understand that it allows him in the road way but are you supposed to ride to the right as near as practicable. Bicycle tires aren't that wide so he doesn't need the middle of the roadway so he could still ride in the road not on the shoulder but near the white line. If he is riding in the middle I guess he would be violating the law. Maybe I am reading into to much.

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  10. Anonymous. He wasn't charged with not riding on the right side of the lane because exception A specifically exempted him from any particular lane position in any lane under 14' wide unless there happened to be a designated bike lane present.

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  11. Anonymous, you are either reading too much or not enough.

    In a lane that is less than 14ft (or too narrow to share), the bicycle driver is given the use of the FULL lane. The primary reason for that is to prevent a motorist from trying to share a lane that is too narrow to share. When a cyclist rides far right in a lane that is too narrow to share, he runs the risk of being sideswiped by a motorist with poor judgment. That is why 551.103 (4)(a) explicitly allows the full use of such lanes.

    Here's a police officer riding in the middle of a 13ft lane.

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  12. Best of luck. It's tough to fight the common lunacy when it has become so entrenched. Most people have too much to lose to even consider it. "Freedom", heh?

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  13. In what amounts to a sea change for the Department of Transportation, the automobile will no longer be the prime consideration in federal transportation planning. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the needs of pedestrians and cyclists will be considered along with those of motorists, and he makes it clear that walking and riding are “an important component for livable communities.”

    Read More http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/03/lahood-policy-statement/#ixzz0if7wcYt7

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  14. Chip: I'm really sorry to hear about this. I know how humiliating and terrifying this must be because, as you know, I am going through something similar, as you know (See for the latest), except that I was held in jail only once and for only about four hours. I wish I do more to help. Be strong. Take comfort in your friends.

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  15. would Baylor st. be a better choice? I saw Chipseal riding on Hwy. 34 Friday afternoon, the Ennis Police on Breckenridge never looked at him twice???

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  16. Hello Anon. I think you are a little confused. I did not travel on Hwy 34 on Friday. Also Breckenridge does not cross Hwy 34. I did however, travel on Ennis Avenue, and on Kaufman. Are you sure it was me? I have a distinctive riding style around town: I never drive in an unlawful manner.

    I think that Baylor, as a alternate route to Ennis Avenue, is quite problematic. In way of answering your question, would you prefer driving your car on Baylor rather than on Ennis Ave.?

    Ennis Avenue is more attractive for cyclists for the same reason it is attractive to motorists.

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  17. OK, Anon, here is the rest of my answer to you.

    You suggest Baylor as (I assume) an alternative to Ennis Avenue. You wonder why I would prefer a high speed and high volume road over a low volume residential street.

    First, the surface quality is much smoother on Ennis Avenue. Because it is a high volume street, it receives much more attention from Ennis’s street department than Baylor.

    Baylor has an underpass at the railroad crossing, but at this time of year is has puddles that nearly cover the east-bound lane going under the bridge. Those puddles are hiding ever-growing potholes. I haven’t memorized their location, have you?

    Dripping automobiles carry water up onto the decorative brick street surface along West Main. Slick bricks are a hazard I avoid.

    There are many stop sign controlled intersections on Baylor. Because I am traveling on an errand, I find that I prefer an occasional stop light to a fixed stop sign. Don’t you?

    Residential streets are more hazardous than Ennis Ave. There are many more driveways in which it is not unusual to find someone backing their automobile into the street. Children are not expecting nor do they hear the approach of a bicycle.

    Baylor is wide, but unlaned, because they allow on-street parking on both sides of the roadway. I do not drive on or near parking spaces. I also drive away from the edge of the road to provide better sight-lines both to myself and other travelers. It is unlikely that the Ennis PD would countenance such behavior, as they consistently object to my using safe practices. According to the sworn testimony of two of their officers, they do not object to the flagrantly illegal behavior of many of the cyclists around town.

    In the end though, I do not need to justify my chosen route to anyone. It is enough that it is a pubic road, and I choose to travel on it lawfully.

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  18. Any update on the appeal? Has one been scheduled or is Chip waiting on something before starting the process?

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